Myanmar conservationists unite to breed endangered Irrawaddy dolphins


Through Zarni Mann July 17, 2020

Mandalay – Myanmar’s approval of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin for commercial captive breeding has led to condemnation from conservationists.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Conservation last month ordered that 90 protected species, including the tiger, red panda, clouded leopard, pangolin and snub-nosed monkey, be made available for commercial captive breeding.

The Forestry Department said the endangered species could be commercialized by displaying them in zoos, hotels and for ecotourism in accordance with the Biodiversity Conservation and Protected Areas Act of 1994.

The order allows the dolphins to be kept and bred in zoos.

It also allows the breeding of species such as the sambhur and barking deer, crocodiles and silver pheasant for meat and traditional medicines. Conservationists say this will increase wildlife trade.

A pangolin in one of the forests of Myanmar. / WCS Myanmar

The Conservation and Protected Areas Act says it aims to conserve endangered wildlife, natural habitats and ecosystems. However, it has received criticism from conservation activists.

“Captive breeding of the Irrawaddy dolphin would not be as easy as it would be with other species, due to Myanmar’s breeding opportunities, their nature and habitation,” said U Kyaw Hla Thein, the project coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)’s Irrawaddy dolphin conservation team.

Myanmar has a population of 79 Irrawaddy dolphins, the WCS reported in February. However, between March and early July, at least four dolphins, including a calf, died as a result of electrofishing, the biggest threat to the species.

They are named after the river where they live.

One month old dolphin calf found dead on June 29 in the Irrawaddy in Myittha Township in the Mandalay region. / WCS Myanmar

The dolphins are known for their uniqueness and “cooperative fishing” with residents where the dolphins would gather fish and signal where nets should be cast.

The WCS welcomed the proposals for ecotourism based on community-based dolphin watching packages. It said the move could promote community education and understanding of cooperative fishing, which is considered unique to Myanmar.

“Putting dolphins in a small zoo pond is not a good idea. We have star tortoise breeding projects. The nature of the tortoise allows captive breeding and we can send them back to the wild. But dolphins are not the same,” U Kyaw Hla Thein added. “The dolphins must be able to survive in the wild.”

The group also criticized plans for commercial captive breeding for the authorities’ inability to enforce the law and control wildlife trade.

U Win Myo Thu, director of EcoDev (Economically Progressive Ecosystem Development), said: “Captive breeding could increase populations, allow for species research and boost education. However, if the government does not enact concrete rules, we fear the plan will encourage wildlife trade.”

Without restrictions on the trade in wild animals and their body parts, activists said the demand for wild meat and body parts for traditional medicines could increase.

An elephant camp in Chin State in December 2019. /: Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

“We are concerned that the private sector is abusing the warrants and developing private zoos and hotels, breeding wild animals and illegally trading wild animals because there are many legal loopholes and weaknesses,” U Win Myo Thu added.

Activists said the plans will not encourage the conservation of endangered species.

U Thaw Phyo Shwe, the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (Banca) field coordinator, said, “We don’t encourage this plan.”

He said the government’s plans could limit the number of wild animals that can be seized.

“But this will affect the environment and the habitats of the animals and mislead conservation efforts,” he said.

A joint statement by WWF and Flora and Fauna International expressed concern over the commercial breeding of 90 species, some of which are globally threatened.

The statement said experiences elsewhere in Asean showed that commercial breeding of wild animals was extremely difficult to regulate and rarely stimulated conservation efforts.

An Irrawaddy dolphin uses its tail to indicate where fishing crews should cast their nets. / WCS Myanmar

“Some commercial trade has been shown to increase illegal wildlife trade, particularly in high value and critically endangered species, by encouraging parallel markets and boosting general demand for wildlife products. Commercial breeding and trade in wildlife may also increase the risk of transmitting diseases from wildlife to humans, such as COVID-19,” the statement said.

Conservationists in Myanmar told The Irrawaddy that plans to commercialize breeding and show off wildlife needed to be reviewed, calling for the removal of endangered species such as the Irrawaddy dolphin, tigers, red panda and Gurney’s pitta, a type of hornbill. , and to look for an alternative way to protect them.

“Wildlife should be in the wild. Putting them in a zoo is not the solution,” says Banca’s U Thaw Phyo Shwe.

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